18:30 GMT28 July 2021
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    A consortium of media outlets has reported that several hundred politicians, rights activists and journalists were among those targeted in several countries, including India, with a phone spyware sold to various governments by an Israeli firm, NSO Group.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has called on the world's governments to immediately cease using surveillance technology in ways that violate human rights.

    This statement from the UNHRC came hours after news reports emerged claiming that over 300 Indians, including two serving cabinet ministers and over 40 journalists, were targeted in a hacking attack through an Israeli spyware program, Pegasus. 

    According to the UNHRC, the apparent use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, politicians and others in a variety of countries is "extremely alarming". 

    "The reports seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people's human rights. States concerned should take steps to protect against such 'invasions' of privacy," Michelle Bachelet Jeria, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.  

    Bachelet also highlighted that spyware enables extremely deep intrusions into people's devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives. 

    The use of spyware can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats. If the recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true then that red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity," she mentioned.

    Bachelet further mentioned that the UN Human Rights Council has repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources.

    "Use of surveillance software has been linked to arrest, intimidation and even killings of journalists and human rights defenders. Reports of surveillance also have the invidious effect of making people censor," the statement mentioned. 

    On Sunday, several global media organisations in cooperation with several NGOs released reports exposing a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers of prominent individuals worldwide potentially targeted for surveillance by the state-linked clients of Israeli cyberintelligence firm NSO Group, the developer of the Pegasus software. These organisations conducted investigations based on leaked data shared by Forbidden Stories, a France-based non-profit and human rights group, and Amnesty International.

    Following the reports claiming that the spyware Pegasus was used to conduct surveillance, India's main opposition parties including Congress have demanded that Home Minister Amit Shah be sacked and an investigation be launched against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “killing the fundamental rights of people”.

    However, the Indian government has categorically rejected the attack on it by the opposition parties in the wake of the snooping row, saying attempts were being made to "malign" Indian democracy.

    Meanwhile, this is not the first time that the Pegasus spyware has been found to have been targeting Indian nationals. In November 2019, WhatsApp claimed that the NSO Group was snooping on Indian activists and journalists using Pegasus. 

    Related:

    Private Israeli Spyware Used Against Activists, Journalists Worldwide, Reports Suggest
    Rahul Gandhi, Indian PM Modi's Key Rival, Listed as Potential Surveillance Target of Israeli Spyware
    Pegasus: Indian Opposition Demands Parliamentary Probe Into Israeli Spyware Row
    Tags:
    spyware, Pegasus, Amit Shah, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, journalists, ministers, Human Rights, India, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), United Nation
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